Oat History, Northern Great Plains


The quoted page from the book below puts into perspective, the value of the effort of crop improvement through breeding. The improvement continues to this day in oats for western Canada and is a permanent resource for prairie farms.

THE CEREALS IN AMERICA, by Thomas F. Hunt (Professor of Agronomy in Cornell University), 1904

Oat History, Northern Great Plains
Oat History, Northern Great Plains

“The importance of Plant Breeding. – The individual plant is the result of two forces: environment (climate, soil, fertilizer, culture, etc. ) and heredity (parents, grandparents, etc.). The increased yield of a crop by modification of environment, although a necessary process to successful agriculture, can only be accomplished by an expense more or less considerable. Heredity, however, is a silent force, which acts without expense. If a plant be discovered that would produce because of the force of inheritance only one grain of maize more on each ear than at present, it would be capable of increasing the maize crop of the United States five million bushels of maize, not next year alone but for years to come. This is the significance of improved seed.

[Luther Burbank:] ‘The vast possibilities of plant breeding can hardly be estimated. It would not be difficult for one man to breed a new rye, wheat, barley, oats or rice which would produce one grain more to each head, or a corn which would produce and extra kernel to each ear, another potato in each plant, or an apple, plum, orange or nut to each tree. What would be the result? In five staples only in the United States alone the inexhaustible forces of Nature would produce annually without effort and without cost:

  • 5,200,000 extra bushels of corn,
  • 15,000,000 extra bushels of wheat,
  • 20,000,000 extra bushels of oats,
  • 1,500,000 extra bushels of barley
  • 21,000,000 extra bushels of potatoes

But these vast possibilities are not alone for one year, or for our own time or race, but are beneficent legacies for every man, woman or child who shall ever inhabit the earth.’”


Oat History, Northern Great Plains

In this 1920 account of oat production in western Canada, it is clear that oats is a powerful component on the farm at this time in Canadian history. It is in fact the original biofuel driving agricultural productivity. Notice also the prioritized uses of oat of which food is at the bottom:

  1. A concentrate for horses and other stock, “easily and cheaply grown…”
  2. a hay crop for all classes of stock, “harvested with binder…early dough stage.”
  3. an ensilage crop and “in the more moist districts that are not well suited to growing corn.”
  4. as human food. “it provides more nourishment at lower cost than any other cereal.”

“In Manitoba oats occupy over one-third of the grain acreage, in Saskatchewan about on-quarter and in Alberta nearly on-half.”